Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Getting the Details Right

Today's post on the mysteries of self-publishing is on "Getting the Details Right."

One of the most exhausting parts of this process is being in charge of everything--not just writing, but editing, proofreading, design, publishing, publicity. It's easy to slip up in one way or another, and it can cost sales... and hurt your brand in the long run.

I've seen a couple of mistakes made by very successfully self-published authors during my research that I want to pass on today.

First, I saw an author whose work I enjoy was self-publishing some older books after the rights reverted to her. I was thinking of buying an anthology of these stories... until I started reading reader reviews. Over and over I saw low ratings and complaints, and I was surprised. This is, like I said, an author I personally enjoy reading. So I did some digging into the negative reviews and saw a pattern: people weren't complaining about the stories themselves, they were annoyed by little things that ruined their enjoyment of the stories. The two most-mentioned problems were 1) spelling and grammar errors, and 2) technical problems with reading the text on the Kindle. I'm guessing that this author simply took the raw text she had originally turned in to her publisher and uploaded it to the Kindle. The problem was, this copy had not been copyedited and was full of typos and grammar mistakes. Oops. The second problem was that the text had no markers, page breaks or bookmarks, which made it impossible for readers to find an individual story in the anthology. The complaints had gotten so numerous that other readers were saying things like "I won't buy it because of your negative review. Thanks."

The second author is one of my personal favorites. She's doing very well with publishing her backlist, but one of her books I noticed had many negative reviews. When I looked I saw that the one-star reviews were by readers who said things like "this was supposed to be a thriller/mystery/suspense story, but it was some mushy romance. I hate romances," and "there weren't enough twists and turns in the mystery and the characters spent too much time talking to each other." The problem? The cover design had a suspenseful feel to it, and the book description described the mystery part of the plot, and said nothing about the fact that it was actually a romance with a suspense subplot.

What's the lesson from this? Both of these authors have large fanbases, so I'm sure a few negative comments aren't going to do them much harm. But those of us who don't have the large built-in audience count on that word of mouth to bring us new readers. We can't afford to make easily correctable errors.

In the first case, it brought home to me the importance of editing and proofreading, and getting that darned Microsoft Word to Kindle formatting conversion figured out (my current bugaboo). The little things, like having clean, easy to read text and good navigation within the book can profoundly affect the readers' enjoyment, or lack thereof. Check, double-check, and check again before uploading the book. That's my lesson.

The second case is a different lesson. This shows that writing a good book, formatting it well and providing compelling description and an interesting cover design isn't enough. Look hard at what message you're sending to potential readers. If your book is sexy, make sure your cover and description and keywords emphasize that; if it's funny, let 'em know. Don't assume that anyone will know what your book is about just based on your name, or what category your book is listed in. A few sales roped in by misleading promotion will cost you in the long run, when those readers tell all their friends to avoid your work because it's not what they expected.

Whew. Who knew this was going to be so complicated? But it's a fascinating process, and I look forward to posting next time, Wednesday, February 22, when the subject will be the mysteries of pricing.



Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

Another great and informative post, Barb. Guess the saying, "The devil is in the details," is so right in this case.

Those of us with proofing genes can pick up a page and our eyes go right to the only error on that page. And I do this with my own work if I haven't looked at it in a while.

Looking forward to your next installment!

Meggan McQuaid said...

Good post, Barb, thanks.

You'll have to pay yourself as not just the writer, but also as the researcher, editor, book cover designer...

Oh, look, you just got a raise!